Friday, 19 February 2010

Sad but true

I posted some time ago about the bell tree, one of my favourite instruments. A couple of year three classes (7 & 8 years old) are doing some imaginative work involving magic potions and I have been developing ways of supporting this with music. The bell tree is just right for this; it gives the perfect sound for the casting of a spell.

I don't have a bell tree of my own so was delighted to come across one in the school's music cupboard. It is a fine example, reminscent of a Victorian laboratory or a film set for a Sherlock Holmes movie. Unlike the one in the picture, borrowed from another school for a short while last spring, it is mounted in a hard-wood frame making holding it unnecessary and reducing the chances of it being dropped on some poor child's foot. Including, as it does, a fair amount of heavy brass in it's make-up it would hurt a lot and parents would be bound to ask where that nasty bruise came from.

So many schools I visit have very poor storage facilities for instruments. In this particular school the cupboard was big enough for what they had but the instruments were in disarray and the space was being encroached upon by unrelated materials and equipment including an enormous television on a trolley that made it hard to reach many of the shelves. Various objects, including an ornate wooden conductor's stand, spoke of former glories and present neglect.

I wasn't surprised to discover that the year 3 children had never seen the school's bell tree. They had only been there for a few months after all. What did surprise me was that children in year 5, who had spent more than two years at the place, had never seen it. I know a lot of primary school teachers shy away from music because of the noise and apparent chaos. Speaking to practitioners in other fields suggests that there are teachers equally reluctant to explore drama and even art, preferring to stay within their comfort zones but this is unnecessary.

While I can sympathise with this 'anything for a quiet life' attitude it is possible to explore music with children without ending up with over-excited children, frosty looks from the person trying to teach in the next room and splitting headache. It doesn't have to be a chaotic free-for-all and I shall share some approaches and techniques in the March edition of Playing With Sound, the free newsletter I put out once a month. In the mean time I intend to make the most of what's left of the half term holiday.


  1. We were in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago, in the market there was a faintly Andean chap on one of the stall on the market in the square selling all sorts of cool instruments, I can't say I saw one of these, they were mostly wood type things, but priced nicely at about a fiver a piece. The temptation to just get one of everything was almost too strong to control!

  2. Thanks for the tip, TJ. I'll look out for him next time I'm in Cambridge. I'm a sucker for musical oddities of all kinds.